Salvatore Cristello – The man who helped print the first copy of the Maple Leaf flag

Salvatore Cristello was born in Cardinale, Calabria, in 1933. In 1962, he left Italy with his wife and three children in search of the “better living” he says he hoped he would find in Canada. He settled in Toronto, where he has lived since, and immediately started to work in construction.

A few months later, Cristello took a new job at the textile factory, Canadiana Print Works. By 1965, Cristello was well aware of the Great Flag Debate, as it is now known, that had been raging across the country. Since the factory routinely printed flags, Cristello sensed something was just around the corner. “We [the workers] heard something from the owner, and we prepared because the flag could come any time.”

On the historic day in February when the flag was inaugurated, government officials and reporters from a local newspaper came into the factory to witness the production of the Maple Leaf ’s first copy. At the time, Cristello was not convinced that his role in printing the new Canadian flag was very important, so when his boss brought in a news article featuring a photo of him printing the flag, Cristello says, “I put it in a drawer and I forgot about it.”

Cristello’s six children were aware of his accomplishment while they were growing up, but didn’t fully comprehend how significant it was until they found the article in a drawer nearly 30 years later.           

His daughter, Isabella, said, “We were looking for something and we came across it, and I said, ‘Wow, this is really history!’” The children decided to have the article framed, and gave it to their father as a Christmas gift that year.

Cristello eventually decided to take a trip to City Hall, with the article, in order to share his story. He says that in February 2012, just before “the 47thanniversary [of the flag’s inauguration] I went there and said, ‘I’m the guy!’” His effort in printing the flag was acknowledged in a May 2012 meeting with Toronto’s mayor at the time, Rob Ford, and current Toronto city councilor Cesar Palacio. Cristello received a framed letter from Ford and Palacio, which now hangs proudly in the kitchen of his Toronto home, congratulating him on being “a part of our flag’s history.”

Although this accomplishment is one of Cristello’s fondest, he is also quite proud that as an immigrant to Canada with little formal education, he succeeded in providing for his wife and children. This was thanks to his work ethic and constant drive. Cristello left the textile company shortly after printing the Canadian flag, and he went on to work a number of jobs including stints as a handyman, a truck driver and cement and baseboard work, which gives him the most pride. He eventually retired on May 1, 1994, but he says, “I didn’t take retirement to stay in the house, or go in the backyard to drink and smoke. I got more jobs!”

But Cristello, who is now 81, decided to cut back so he could spend his days taking care of his wife Stella who has Alzheimer’s, and enjoying the time he gets with his nine grandkids, who are fascinated by his role in ushering in Canada’s flag.

As the nation at large celebrates the 50th anniversary of the flag’s inauguration, the Cristello family hopes their father will be remembered as part of the Maple Leaf ’s history.

One of Cristello’s sons, Robert, says “it’s fitting” that his father printed the first Canadian flag. “It’s always said that immigrants built this country, so for him to have that type of involvement is a huge accomplishment.”

written by Davide Mastracci